On the expansion trail

18 Feb 2020

Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandford

In the last eight years, Cumbernauld-based contract machining specialist Cowie Engineering has doubled annual turnover, increased headcount from 13 to 24 and doubled its vertical machining centre count to 10 machines.

The machining centres were all supplied by Hurco – which also supplied a 10-inch chuck CNC lathe in 2011.

The latest Hurco addition was a VMX60SRTi 5-axis VMC with swivelling spindle head and flush rotary table, a design that is providing maximum working volume for single set-up machining of larger parts for the oil and gas industry.

It is also allowing the subcontractor to gain extra contracts from the motorsport sector, particularly for the production of high tolerance components in one hit from materials ranging from stainless and other steels to aluminium and plastics. The use of linear scales rather than encoders for positional feedback from the linear axes, together with Renishaw part probing and tool length setting, provide the elevated levels of precision demanded in race car construction.

Tolerances held are from typically ± 0.05 mm down to 8 or 9 microns total. It has necessitated the installation of a new coordinate measuring machine, an Aberlink 'Axiom too', in a temperature-controlled room and a full-time inspector has been appointed to verify that F1 components coming off all the Hurcos and other machine tools are compliant.

Ross and Grant Cowie, sons of company founder Rodger, together with his wife Cathie and daughter Julie (who has just qualified as a chartered accountant) all work full-time in the business. It was established in 1999 and at the start all machining was carried out on manual mills and a lathe. However it was less than two years before the first CNC machine arrived, a second-hand Hurco BMC25 with a 1,050 x 500 mm table, which allowed larger and more complex components to be produced.

The type of work undertaken by the ISO9001-accredited firm has changed over time. Early contracts were mainly in mining, defence, construction and bottling as well as in food and switchgear, but more business now comes from the latter two sectors as well as motorsport, the electrical industry in general and increasingly oil and gas, which now appears to be emerging strongly from a marked and sustained downturn.

Ross Cowie commented, "We have historically machined a lot of stainless steel, particularly for the food industry, and the material still accounts for around a fifth of throughput.

"Lately, new contracts have introduced diverse engineering steels as well as challenging alloys such as Duplex, Inconel and titanium, plus more aluminium and plastics.

"We use our Hurco 4th axis tables regularly to gain access to parts for machining on multiple sides, hopefully in one hit. We position them individually with or without a tailstock, or alternatively mount multiple parts on a trunnion for indexing. Sometimes we machine components requiring full simultaneous 4-axis cycles."